Backgrounder Article from  Health Canada

Archived - The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

News Release: Government of Canada Passes New Regulations to Enhance the Level of Protection for Workers Handling Hazardous Materials in the Workplace

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada's national hazard communication standard. Under WHMIS, Health Canada administers the Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and associated regulations, which set labelling and material safety data sheet (SDSs) requirements for suppliers. Each of the provincial, territorial and federal agencies responsible for occupational health and safety has established employer WHMIS requirements within their respective jurisdictions.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a standardized, internationally consistent approach to classifying chemicals according to their physical, health and environmental hazards. The GHS covers all hazardous chemical substances and mixtures, and communicates hazard information through labels and SDSs.

Why is Canada implementing the GHS?

The GHS helps strengthen worker health and safety, facilitates trade with the U.S., and enhances the competitiveness of Canadian suppliers of workplace chemicals.

The implementation of the GHS delivers on a key initiative announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the United States (U.S.) President Barack Obama as part of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council's Joint Action Plan.

With the adoption of the GHS in WHMIS, it is now possible to meet Canadian and U.S. requirements using a single label and SDS for most hazardous products.

Canada and the U.S. will continue to cooperate on an ongoing basis to align and synchronize updates to the GHS system for workplace chemicals.

How does the GHS enhance workplace safety?

The GHS provides an international standard for the classification and communication of information on hazardous products.

For example:

  • the standardized hazard symbols, signal words and hazard statements are expected to improve the communication of hazard information;
  • the GHS identifies hazards not addressed under the current system, such as aspiration hazards; and,
  • more detailed information on hazardous products will be provided to employees and employers.

A key objective of the implementation of the GHS is to create a system that allows Canadian and U.S. requirements to be met through the use of a single label and safety data sheet for most hazardous products. Canada and the United States are working to keep variances to a minimum; however, there will be some regulatory variances between the two countries, such as bilingual labels in Canada.  Variances will be retained only in order to maintain the current level of protection for workers or due to the requirements of the respective legislative frameworks.

GHS Implementation in Canada:

Health Canada has worked closely with federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulators, as well as suppliers, employers and organised labour, to solicit their views and feedback regarding the implementation of and transition to the GHS in Canada.

The interlocking nature of the federal, provincial and territorial WHMIS requirements requires that the timing of implementation and the transition approach be coordinated across Canada.  In addition to changes made to the HPA and its associated regulations, changes are required to federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety legislation for hazard communication (labels and SDSs) in order to implement the GHS.

To give suppliers, employers and workers time to adjust to the new system, transition to the GHS will take place using a three-phase approach, which will conclude by December 1, 2018. More information about the transition phases is available on Health Canada's website. Enquiries related to requirements for employers in specific jurisdictions should be directed to the federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulators.

This phased-in approach to WHMIS transition is similar to the approach adopted to implement the GHS in the U.S.

While WHMIS 2015 includes new harmonized criteria for hazard classification and requirements for labels and SDSs the roles and responsibilities for suppliers, employers and workers have not changed.

Suppliers, defined as persons who, in the course of business, sell or import a hazardous product, will continue to:

  • identify whether their products are hazardous products; and,
  • prepare labels and SDSs and provide these to purchasers of hazardous products intended for use in a workplace.

Employers will continue to:

  • educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of hazardous products in the workplace;
  • ensure that hazardous products are properly labelled;
  • prepare workplace labels and SDSs (as necessary); and,
  • ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.

Workers will continue to:

  • participate in WHMIS and chemical safety training programs;
  • take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers; and,
  • participate in identifying and controlling hazards.

GHS Implementation in the U.S. and other countries:

The international community is rapidly moving toward adoption of the GHS.  

In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom 2012) to implement the GHS for workplace chemicals on March 26, 2012. The HazCom 2012 includes a transition time until June 1, 2015 for chemical manufacturers and importers to be compliant with all provisions, with distributors being fully compliant by December 1, 2015 and the completion of the workplace training by June 2016.

With the adoption of the GHS in WHMIS, it is now possible to meet Canadian and U.S. requirements using a single label and SDS for each hazardous product.

Among Canada's other trading partners, the European Union, Australia, Japan, China and South Korea have either adopted, or are in the process of adopting, the GHS.


Search for related information by keyword

Health Canada Health and Safety

Date modified: